Sydney FC celebrating a goal during the 2023 A-League Women Grand Final. Photo Credit: Joshua Davis

In front of a massive crowd of 7063 at Leichhardt Oval, Sydney FC advanced to the 2024 A-League Women Grand Final.

The game started in an action-packed manner, with Sydney FC wasting little time in trying to extend their 1-0 aggregate lead over the Mariners, but Casey Dumont would come up strong in denying the home side.

In a boost for the home side, Princess Ibini recovered from successful shoulder surgery after injuring it during last week’s first leg match and stayed in the starting side, with some quality shots early, but was denied by the crossbar.

Isabel Gomez would receive the games first yellow card, and off the ensuing free kick, a set piece would see Mackenzie Hawkesby open the scoring, to give the hosts a 1-0 lead (2-0 on aggregate), sending the fans into a rapturous delight.

“I’m super grateful for [Hawkesby], I’m grateful for other girls stepping up when we had injuries, because it’s more than one person,” Ante Juric said post-game when asked about Hawkesby’s mid-season return from Brighton.

“In saying that, she was very important and Macca knows how much we love her and how much she fits in our system.”

With the Mariners needing a goal before half-time, former Sydney FC forward Rola Badiwaya would find a way to strike the ball past Jada Whyman, restoring the one-goal deficit the Mariners entered the game with (2-1 on aggregate).

Faye Bryson would deliver a crunching tackle to Ibini in the second minute of stoppage time and Bryson would require attention from the Mariners medical staff before being allowed to resume play.

A goal down, the Mariners would come out strong in the second half, but were unable to draw level on aggregate and survive a blow when defensive stalwart Annabel Martin collided with Cortnee Vine before both players got to their feet and play resumed.

Both sides would make attacking substitutions shortly after, with Annalise Rasmussen and Peta Trimis replacing Wurigumula and Paige Hayward respectively for the visitors, and Shea Connors replacing Ibini for the hosts.

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Connors, who has yet to score this season, had a two-on-one opportunity with Hawkesby in support, but chose to take on Dumont instead of passing, with the opportunity fizzling out a few moments later to keep it 2-1 on aggregate.

Vine would find Hawkesby moments later in the 75th minute, but she would put it wide, with the hosts once again unable to extend their lead on aggregate, before Connors would once again come up short in the 80th minute.

With time running out, the Mariners would push forward but Jada Whyman would come up strong to deny the visitors the equaliser, while Connors would continued to be denied by Dumont at the other end, who was determined to get her first of the season.

Lucy Johnson would replace Hawkesby in the third minute of a minimum of six minutes of second half stoppage time as Sydney FC looked to navigate the remainder of the game and make their seventh consecutive grand final.

Juric said post-game that Hawkesby rolled her ankle and kept limping which is why she was substituted, and needed someone who could run in defence.

As referee Georgia Ghirardello signaled for full-time, Leichhardt Oval erupted into applause from the home fans, shaking the stadium, while the side celebrated in the middle of the park before moving onto a handshake line with the defeated Mariners.

“It’s not really about the seventh. I’m just happy about now and these girls,” Juric said.

“We’re in the grand final for the club and for ourselves. They definitely deserve it considering the tough year we’ve had.

“I’m just super proud of this first one for a lot of these girls.”

Post-match, Mariners coach Emily Husband also said how proud she was of her squad.

“Nobody ever wants to lose a game. Ultimately, we probably didn’t create as many clear cut chances as we should have done,” Husband said.

“That’s the thing in football, when you don’t create those chances it’s a bit harder to put them away.

“I’m so proud of the girls in the way they fought and battled and dominated the game. We did dominate the game, both legs really in a lot of senses, but ultimately football comes down to not domination of the pitch, but ability to put the ball in the back of the net and we didn’t do that.”

Sydney FC will now await the winner of Melbourne City and the Newcastle Jets (City lead 3-0 on aggregate), who play on Sunday April 28 at 1pm.

For the Sky Blues, they will be looking to make it their third grand final win in those seven appearances, having won last years decider over Western United.

“We’re experienced, we’re comfortable, we’ve done it a lot. Yeah, we’ve lost a couple but just to be there, and the girls are hungry,” Juric said.

“It’s going to be a big game because City will be the same, if they get in or the Newcastle Jets if they get in. Grand Finals are unique, so we’re ready.”

Emily Husband now turns her attention to the A-League Women All Stars, where she makes up part of the coaching staff.

“I feel so privileged to be given that opportunity and I’m really looking forward to working with not just the caliper of people but the players [and] the coaches as well.

“It’s just going to be a really good experience and something to get my teeth into and take my mind off the last week.”

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